The Associated Press used a U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration March 1 press release to produce a piece of junk journalism about an explosive increase of methamphetamine users in drug treatment, contends Slate. com. The story got wide play, used on the Web sites of at least 307 news outlets. Citing SAMHSA, the AP reports that the number of meth users admitted to substance-abuse programs had quadrupled between 1993 and 2003. Neither the AP nor SAMHSA explains why treatment numbers are up. A SAMHSA official indicates that the addictiveness of meth is to blame, not an increase in prevalence; the AP reporter cites unnamed experts to say meth use is “epidemic in some states,” indicating that an increase in use might be behind more users seeking help.
A cursory look at the SAMHSA report points to another reason: coercion. If you read all the way to the bottom of the SAMHSA report, you learn that changes in drug law have helped boost meth-therapy admissions. Under “referral” programs, some jurisdictions divert nonviolent meth offenders from prison into substance-abuse programs. One way to look at the SAMHSA data is that the number of people in treatment is increasing because the criminal justice system is feeding them a huge number of nonviolent offenders.